We looked like m&ms tumbling from the plane as our chutes opened in the sky. Below us was a bounty of trees more colorful than a box of Crayolas. It was October, it was college, and I was suffering from a temporary bout of insanity. I had signed up to go skydiving.
Despite hours of instruction, I didn’t bend my knees when I landed, turning my body into a human accordion.
The girl who was once five foot six was now five foot five.
When I hit the ground, I felt so much pain that I knew I wasn’t dead.
After what seemed to be an eternity lying there, people running towards me, my parachute ruffling in the wind, I dared to ask myself, can I feel my toes? I feared I was paralyzed. I didn’t want to know the answer. It was the longest three seconds in my life before I gained the courage to try a little wiggle.
Finally, I mustered up the courage.
Yes, I could feel my toes, even the little piggy who didn’t go to the market that day.
But I knew something was wrong.
I broke my back, chipping my T-12 and T-13 vertebrae, which would lead to a lifetime of wearing ugly shoes and one hell of a lecture from my parents.
But that’s another story.
Not fast forward to the other side of my life, to the other side of the world, during a global Covid-19 pandemic.
For no good reason, my legs have gone numb.
Are the consequences of that skydiving accident finally catching up to me, like a bill collector who tracks down your phone number?
“Hey lady, your femora nerves are being repossessed.”
No. It’s something a therapist coined as Post Traumatic Quarantine Syndrome.
Wearing masks all day, teaching kids all night during a global pandemic while neighbors in Norman Rockwell towns no longer talk to each other did take its toll.
This weirdness started during my two weeks of government-mandated quarantine in Shang Hai. My body was in time-zone purgatory, not knowing day from night. I was up all hours watching the Capitol riots and Chinese infomercials. Then during the day, I made sculptures out of rice from our worse-than-airline meals as I waited for temperature checks from the Mad haz-matters.
But instead of feeling exhausted from lack of sleep, my body went into overdrive. I was like that Meth tweaker you see on cop shows, complete with sunken cheeks and bug-eyes. All that was missing were the handcuffs.
That two-week nirvana was followed by another two-week lockdown in Kunming, in my home, where I spent way too much time on WebMD. I searched my symptoms and was for certain I had a nerve eating disease that would lead to an emergency flight to Bangkok for an experimental procedure from a diabolical doctor followed by something even worse: four more weeks of quarantine.
“Ginger,” a friend texted. “Go see a doctor. I gotta good one.”
“OK,” I replied.
This doctor was a westerner. Older than Doogie Houser, younger than Dr. Fauci, and one of the best western docs in Kunming. Actually, one of the only Western doctors in Kunming. He wheeled his chair towards me as I rambled about my looming death.
This is where he’d take off his glasses the way doctors do in TV commercials, that is, if he wore glasses.
“I don’t think there is anything physically wrong with you, Virginia. The pain you’re feeling? It’s most likely from anxiety.”
“Anxiety? Who me? Worry?”
My heart was thumping like a bongo drum.
He scooted his chair back to his desk and continued. “Some folks get the squirts, others get headaches, but your anxiety is leaving you slightly depressed with your legs absorbing the pain.”
As he rambled about parts of my blood I didn’t know I had, I was stuck on the phrase, slightly depressed.
I looked at him, glad that my face mask was covering my curled upper lip.
“Doctor, I gotta tell ya. I’m fifty-nine. Divorced. My ex-husband left me broke. I’ll probably never have sex again. And when I zoom my girlfriends? All we discuss are polyps in ungodly places and biopsy reports. Of course, I’m depressed.”
Then he explained, “As you age, anxiety levels increase.”
(Which correlates directly to bladder control decreasing. )
Still, I wondered why my anxiety didn’t lead to road rage, diarrhea, headaches or just screaming at a guy named MoChit at the American Express call center in Mumbai. Why did my anxiety have to numb my thighs? A student could shoot a poison dart at me, and I could die before collecting homework.
So, kidding aside, the leg numbness is like this.
It’s not the dreaded restless leg syndrome or those pins and needles from falling asleep. It’s as if I had a Novocaine shot in the wrong place, the medicine beginning to wear off.
“I’d like you to come back for more tests,” the doctor advised.
No sooner I left the western doctor’s office, did a Chinese friend sent a text. “Come see my doctor. A Traditional Chinese Medicine man. He old. He wise. He balance your yin and yang.”
I thought about it for a moment. I had tried duck blood hot pot, sizzling intestines, Kentucky Fried insects and squirrel fish. Why not give Traditional Chinese Medicine a try?
So I had appointments with two doctors, literally as different as the East is from the West. It would be a competition of sorts, my ailing body being the playing field in a Post Quarantine Stress Syndrome Showdown.
One doctor was young. One was old. One was hip. One had one of those moles with an extra-long hair you just wanted to pull.
The Western doctor had me pee in a cup.
The Eastern doctor looked at my tongue.
The Western doctor pricked me with needles for blood work.
The Eastern doctors turned me into a craft project from Pinterest.
The Western doctor took my blood pressure and frowned. “It’s high.”
The Eastern doctor took my pulse. “It’s cold.”
The Western doctor scribbled a note, “take melatonin to help you sleep.”
The Eastern doctor put a smoke box on my stomach. And the incense sticks weren’t patchouli but Mugwort. And yes, it smells as bad as it sounds.
The Western doctor suggested Tylenol.
The Easter doctor gave me these ping pong balls. At first, I thought I was supposed to melt them on my stomach with the Mugwort box. Actually, you smash them open, and inside is a brown mutant gummy bear that you nibble with warm water.
The Western doctor prescribed a teacher’s assistant.
The Eastern doctor said to start my day with broccoli juice instead of orange.
The Western Doctor wins. Hands down!
I’m still seeing both, but thanks to getting a full time assistant, my blood pressure literally dropping forty points.
Or maybe it was due to the ping pong balls.
As for my Novocaine legs? If I don’t go ballistic over improperly used ellipses or mispronounced dipthongs, they will hopefully normalize.
Now, rewinding to my college misadventure. That doctor’s name was Dr. Trager. He was completely bald and approximately nine feet tall. He made me wear something called a three-point Jewett back brace, which my dad made me purchase with money from my savings account to teach me a lesson.
I still have the cancelled check.
But more than the brace, the biggest help during that time was my English professor, Albert Drake. He let me write about the Fear of Falling incessantly and read my scribblings. His listening ears helped more than anything else.